More Corporate Events at Banquet Halls, Operators Say

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — People left the first Business & Recreation Expo in West Middlesex, Pa., last February with smiles on their faces and knowing more about all types of businesses, including nearby companies that engage in recreation services.

It was much more than “the traditional trade show booth,” says Shenango Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sherris Moreira.

Moreira, at the chamber just more than a year, brings a fresh set of eyes to staging such events.

“Tweaking and paying attention to how events are done is key to attracting busy people,” she says. “A little bit of time and attention to details can make all the difference.”

Moreira typifies the efforts of four banquet halls and her counterparts at the Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber to meet the needs of business meetings. The banquet halls interviewed for this story are The Links at Firestone Farms in Columbiana, the Metroplex Expo Center in Girard, Michael Alberini’s Restaurant in Boardman and the Holiday Inn-Boardman.

The Shenango Chamber serves some 400 businesses in the Shenango Valley and holds more than 20 events annually.

Moreira revamped her chamber’s annual Business Expo to a Business & Recreation Expo, opening it to the public to draw a wider audience. Some of the new booths sponsored by recreation business were Carried Away Outfitters, which rents kayaks and canoes, Waterfire Sharon and the Pine Lakes Golf Club.

“We all have so many events we have to attend,” Moreira says. “So if we can add in an element of enjoyment and fun, it alleviates any challenges of attending.”

To wit, she wants to attract more young professionals and those not in business to the business-to-business gatherings.

For the chamber’s annual 40 Under 40, Moreira wants to create an atmosphere more representative of the age group for whom it’s intended. Changes include updating the foods served, such as sliders and appetizers, instead of more traditional fare.

Other ways to make business gatherings more enjoyable, Moreira says, include having live music, use of a photo booth, inviting nearby wineries and breweries to provide samples and setting up tables in a way that encourages networking.

“When we do events, we want them to encourage creativity and collaborations,” Moreira says.

The Youngstown Warren Regional Chamber also looks to draw bigger audiences by tweaking the meetings and programs it has long held.

“When you come to a chamber program, you know how they flow so you can look forward to it for next time,” says event manager Mary Beth Wyko.

The chamber hosts 100 or so events every year and serves 2,700 businesses. Wyko and Kim Calvert, vice president of marketing and events, try to alternate the settings of the functions between Mahoning and Trumbull counties and book venues that are easily accessed.

This year the chamber launched its Lattes and Legislators series and has been “thinking outside the box,” Wyko says, to look for venues that reflect the atmosphere of the area and within the district of the featured legislator. When an event has a smaller audience, such as Lattes and Legislators, Wyko says she seeks venues that aren’t as traditional.

While the chamber typically serves chicken at lunch and dinner programs, it makes sure to meet the needs of those with food allergies, such as gluten, by always offering gluten-free sides of roasted potatoes and salad.

Maintaining time for guests to network at the meetings is as important as the food and venue, organizers say.

“People don’t want to stop what they’re doing because they are making connections and meeting up with people they haven’t seen in a while,” Wyko says.

She sets time for eating or talking beforehand instead of beginning the presentation at the scheduled hour.

“It’s about the whole experience,” Calvert adds.

Banquet halls compete to be the venues where more business functions are booked by offering corporate amenities.

The Metroplex Expo Center reopened under new ownership last October and business has been good since, says event manager Briana Simeone.

“It’s a little unconventional as far as what we offer,” she says. “We only rent space rather than the whole decorating or catering team. So renters have to bring in outside vendors, but prices are low because we just have basic rental fees.”

At the Metroplex, which offers 25,000 square feet of space, the most popular events are training seminars for large companies. “It’s usually an all-day event from 8 to 5 where they bring in employees for meetings and make it part of a workday,” Simeone says.

“We like to get trade shows because we want to bring the public to the Metroplex and bring business back to the area,” she adds.

The grand ballroom can fit more than 4,000 people and is popular for these seminars. Movable walls can subdivide the room into 10 smaller spaces as well.

“Our layout is completely customizable,” Simeone says. “You can use your imagination as far as how you want the floor plan and we can create it for you.”

Corporate functions make up 60% of the events held at the banquet room at Michael Alberini’s. Business has been “amazing” and increasing by 18% annually the past eight years, says the restaurant’s owner, Michael Alberini.

Alberini’s is in the midst of booking programs where representatives of pharmaceutical companies give dissertations on the drug or item to the physicians who attend.

The restaurant offers four banquet rooms that can hold up to 110 people. For larger functions, the entire restaurant can be rented for lunch to hold 200 people, Alberini says, which makes it a popular place for businesses to conduct training programs.

Those holding corporate functions at the restaurant can choose from buffet or a sit-down meal with wine pairings to make the sessions more enjoyable, he says.

“We offer a big-city feel with an upscale casual event space,” Alberini says.

“Venues are getting more creative on what they’re offering,” says the Holiday Inn’s director of sales, KayLou King. “Recently we purchased up-lighting to include in packages, centerpieces that are complimentary and additional services to give us an edge over the competition.”

Other updates are new chandeliers, wall fixtures and furniture in the lobby, she says, and the hotel is discussing whether to add a patio to the banquet area in 2018.

Most of the time, the business meetings at the hotel are all-day seminars – they last from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. – but some seminars begin at or after 5 p.m.

“Our business is such a mix,” King says. “We do everything from dart conventions, quilter conventions or beauty company conventions.”

The Holiday Inn is well-suited to conduct weeklong and weekend corporate functions, allowing those who attend to stay at the hotel and have Wi-Fi connection throughout.

In Columbiana, the Links at Firestone Farms has seen an increase in demand for larger spaces to hold corporate functions.

“There’s been a lot of requests for business meetings. So that’s the direction we want to take,” says general manager Mike Ferranti.

With new management at the banquet center, many changes and improvements are underway. The center has updated its sound system and audio-visual equipment, he says, for business meetings. The room can be split in half to handle two meetings.

The time a meeting is scheduled at Firestone Farms isn’t a problem because its executive chef, George David, can serve food at any reasonable hour. Continental breakfasts are popular at corporate functions and Italian food is often requested for lunch and dinner, Ferranti says. But David “likes to put his own spin on everything, so it’s not like from anywhere else,” he adds.

A big draw at Firestone Farms is the golf course. “Companies tend to do meetings in the morning and then go on the golf course after that,” Ferranti says.

“Banquets and business meetings are where a lot of companies are going and the changes we make will be focused on getting everything up-to-date and building for future business,” he says.

Pictured at top: The Links at Firestone Farms banquet hall.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.